A 21st Century Look at The Merchant of Venice
Written By: William Shakespeare
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
This semester I have returned to a class that is bound to lead to tons of Class Acts. This makes me a very happy girl. That class is Shakespeare Survey, and it involves reading several Shakespeare plays from throughout his varied genres. The first in this long line of plays that I will be reading is The Merchant of Venice, a comedy by the master of the written word!
The Merchant of Venice follows Antonio, a man who is much too nice and trusting of his friends, freely lending money to anyone who needs it. When his dearest friend Bassanio decides that he must go to meet with Portia, a lady who has recently come into money through an inheritance, he asks Antonio to help pay for his voyage. Antonio, a rich merchant, doesnít have the money at the moment, because it is all invested in ships carrying very important merchandise. In order to still help his friend, Antonio strikes a deal with Shylock, the local Jewish merchant. Shylock, who has been persecuted all of his life by Christians and, most recently, by Antonio in particular, has an ulterior motive for taking the money. Add that to the fact that Antonioís means may not be as certain as the friends expected and youíve got a play filled with twists and turns that end in a court case, cross-dressing and attempted murder.
Shakespeare is always brilliant, but itís what occurs beneath the intrigue and occasional silliness of the plot that truly allows this play to stand out. The play is interesting, but there is one thing that I feel calls the whole meaning of the play into question. I donít feel like this is a comedy. It is supposed to be a comedy, but it didnít feel like one. Granted, in courses you are told that a comedy is a play in which there is marriage or a promise of procreation at the end while a tragedy concerns loads of death and despair without any hopes for the future. Most times in a tragedy, every character who could have a prospective future is too dead to bother. This doesnít happen in The Merchant of Venice, so clearly, this is not a tragedy.
However, it is not really a comedy either. While the play does end in the promise of marriage and procreation of three whole couples, it does not feel particularly funny. Sure, there are funny parts, but the two characters who do not end the movie with the promise of procreation or marriage, end it with far worse. Antonio is left alone. His best friends have all gone off and gotten married. The homosexual undertones between Antonio and Bassanio are left unrequited and he is the only character left standing alone in the final scene. Not even making it to the final scene is Shylock, who loses his daughter, his riches, and his religion to the main characters of the play, and who is an amalgam of every Jewish stereotype ever invented. And he is considered the villain. He is a villain, but the other characters arenít the sweetest things either, so the end left me a bit cold.